Lando Norris believes Alpine and Williams are faster than McLaren in Jeddah, but as for the rest of the midfield, even a small error could drop him to the back.
The F1 2023 season opener in Bahrain confirmed McLaren’s worries that they have a lot of work to do with their MCL60 to start challenging at the head of the midfield, but before power unit issues set in for Norris in that race, he was a contender to break into the points.
And the early running at the Saudi Arabian GP suggests a possible repeat of that scenario, Norris ending FP2 in P12, though just over a tenth down on his former team-mate Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari who finished that session P10.
Looking the other way though, only three-tenths is what was keeping Norris off the bottom of the FP2 standings.
The McLaren driver then is well aware that there will be no margin for error come qualifying, though does believe that Alpine, who ended FP2 in P4 and P6, are a step too far for McLaren to deal with, the same true for Williams he predicts, even though their lead driver of FP2 Alex Albon was a fraction slower than Norris.
Asked if FP2 was an accurate reflection of McLaren’s pace, Norris told reporters: “FP2 a little bit more so than FP1, I didn’t do my lap in FP1, but it’s close. If I make a little mistake, I’m last place.
“So it’s very close all the midfield. Alpine are up the road on the whole midfield pack, so they’ve jumped more to the front.
“And even Williams seem a lot quicker than us too. It feels alright to be honest the car, I’m struggling quite a bit with the overall balance but yeah, just doing the best with what we’ve got.”
Norris took a new power unit for the Saudi Arabian GP weekend following the pneumatics issue which caused him to pit five times in Bahrain before eventually retiring.
This move was no precaution though, as Norris confirmed that his Bahrain PU has bit the dust.
Asked if this was a precautionary move, Norris replied: “No, I took a whole new engine, because the other is finished already.”
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As for Oscar Piastri, he was once more lacking some performance against his team-mate, but while the congested midfield left him P19 at the end of FP2, his deficit of a quarter of a second to Norris does feel like progress on Bahrain as it stands.
The Aussie said that the big challenge which he faces now is to start putting together his strong laps here and there into a consistent performance level.
“I think we’ve got some improvements to try and make,” he said. “The field was so tight in FP2, so anything small we can find, both on my side and on the team’s side, will go a long way I think.
“I think I’m pretty happy to push. I feel like I’m pretty comfortable with the car and where it’s good, where it’s not so good.
“It’s now just putting it all together really, which I think is sort of the last hurdle. It feels like I can do it here and there in different laps, but just putting it all in one, that last bit of consistency is what I’m lacking at the moment.”